Vietnamese victims cry for tougher control on acid trade, assaults

By Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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Nguyen Quoc Huy Bao of Ho Chi Minh City lost his left eye and retains only 40 percent of his vision in the other after a neighbor threw acid on his family in 2012. His father was left totally blind and his mother also lost an eye. PHOTO COURTESY OF NGUOI LAO DONG
Thanh doesn’t want any donations for his poor family of four, despite the fact that his wife hasn't been able to work since a neighbor, mad with jealousy, doused her with acid two years ago.
“I only want justice,” said the 38-year-old man from Ho Chi Minh City. "But the woman who did this to my wife got off easy."
Victims of acid attacks in Vietnam and legal experts want law enforcement officials to clamp down on the acid trade and change the laws so that vicious chemical attacks are treated as attempted murders rather than assaults.
In many ways, Thanh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Kim Loan lost her life soon after the family began renting a small house in HCMC's District 8 in 2011.
A water pipe in their home leaked chronically, and his wife frequently called the landlord's son to fix it.
Eventually, the man's wife, Lam Thi Huong, came to believe that her husband loved Loan and decided to attack her with acid.
After several surgeries, Loan still suffers scars that distort her lower face, neck and chest. The corrosive chemical also damaged her vision and nose.
The court sentenced Huong to two years for her crime and ordered her to compensate Loan VND20 million (US$950).
But Thanh told Thanh Nien News that Loan has only paid them half the court-ordered compensation, despite numerous complaints filed with the Civil Verdict Enforcement Agency.
“See! She was sentenced to only two years after maiming my wife," Thanh said furiously. "She's even ignored a court order for compensation."
‘Acid? Retail or wholesale?’
Thanh Nien News found it is easy to buy acid from dozens of chemical shops in the Kim Bien and Hoa Binh markets in the city.
It's easier, still to just order it online.
Tran Thi The, the owner of a construction materials shop in District 2, said she often buys acid and dilutes it with water to sell to construction workers for use as a cleaning solution.
“It’s easy to buy anywhere. I think they smuggle it in from China or siphon it off from factories,” she said, speculating its origins.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade requires the buyer and sellers of acid to thoroughly document all purchases and sales. Transaction data, including the names, addresses and the ID card numbers of the buyer and seller, must be saved by both parties for at least five years after each transaction.
However, the regulation is widely ignored at chemical markets, where acid can be bought easily for some VND20,000 (US$0.95) per liter.
Many sell acid through popular online sites for even cheaper.
The owner of a chemical shop in Dong Nai Province who advertises online admitted that they sell concentrated sulfuric acid.
“Retail or wholesale? I only sell for wholesale for VND4,500 per liter,” she said.
On May 8, Binh Duong police raided the home of Nguyen Van Thanh and sealed six tanks containing about 2,000 liters of hydrochloric acid and other chemicals which lacked the proper documentation.
Police also seized the registrations of three trucks Thanh confessed to using to transport the acid.
Their investigation remains underway.
Dire consequences, lenient punishment
Doctor Tran Doan Dao of Cho Ray Hospital said acid attacks are always serious because they often involve large areas of skin and burn deeps.
“Victims have to undergo numerous painful surgeries to remove necrosis and transplant skin,” he told Thanh Nien News.
“Besides, they also suffer scars that distort their appearance and claim ears, noses or the ability to see,” he said.
Ho Chi Minh City-based psychologist Huynh Anh Binh said most acid attacks are perpetrated by individuals with uncontrollable tempers.
“The greatest consequence to the victims cannot be cured with time or money. They suffer terrible physical and mental torture that cannot be fully treated or compensated,” he said.
Lawyer Nguyen Van Hau, deputy chairman of HCMC Jurists’ Association, said acid attackers are charged with “causing deliberate harm” instead of "attempting murder".
Hau argued the current law must be amended.
“In many cases, victims survive with severe burns only to say they wish they'd died.”
“I propose that lawmakers reconsider acid attacks and amend the Penal Code to define it as a capital crime to ensure strict punishment against the criminals to deter similar crimes” he told Thanh Nien News.
Regarding lax management of the acid trade, Hau said the government should stipulate specific areas for the sale of the chemical and strictly enforce existing regulations.
“Otherwise, the ongoing increase in acid attacks will not slow down.”

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